Chapter 7 – My Dad; By Carole Mercer

Chapter 7

My Dad

My first spring on my ranch is a time of struggle. My father comes to live with Sarah and me on our ranch. My father is dying this spring. I receive a call on Thursday, March 31, 1990, that my father is hospitalized. I quickly run out and rearrange stock to fend for themselves for several days.  (I think that I will be gone just a couple of days.) Sarah and I climb into the Ford pick –up. I drive like a crazy woman and we are in San Francisco in five hours. My sister comes from Boston. I blow up the truck on Bay Shore Freeway on my way to San Francisco Airport to pick up my sister.  I sit on the freeway for two hours in broad daylight before anyone stops and helps me. All the “Yuppies” driving with their cell phones won’t even call in for help. My truck blew a rod though the engine. I have it towed to a garage. I have no idea how I get back to the hospital. My sister goes to the hospital on a bus. My dad is dying of congestive heart failure.

I take my dad home with me to die. I fly him up in an air ambulance. I drive his old Mercedes back to Medford. Sarah is such a good traveler. The instant she gets in a car, she goes to sleep. My dad stays overnight in the ranch house with us and takes another turn for the worse. He goes by ambulance to the Rogue Valley Hospital.  I will chase the ambulance several more times before my dad dies at my home in his sleep.

I need around the clock care for my dad. I have been gone for twelve days. The ranch stays together, but I have a huge backup of work.

I do not find this experience with my dad to be a burden. I am just forty years old and have the energy of youth still in my body and mind.  I see myself as a captain of a ship and I put together my crew carefully. My crew is an excellent crew of professional care givers.  The crew consists of six women and one not so excellent teenage boy. The boy does not last.  He is not kind. My job is to NOT to do the crew’s jobs, but to let them do their own job with their own skills.  Each woman comes with her own skills and her own way of caring for my dad. These women also wind up taking care of Sarah and me.  I step out of my kitchen. The kitchen is in excellent hands. The care they give to my dad is beautiful and kind. These are special woman. I am proud to be the captain of this ship . The journey is a cumbersome one in many ways, but the voyage is an important as it is difficult.

I give up the few substitute  teaching jobs and the one long term teaching job that I  have. I need the money, but I cannot be everywhere at once and I need to be at home. I learn to tear down my 400 foot wheel line and put it back together. I thread pipes. I read,read ,read, read the tractor manuals and ask everyone how to do anything  I do not know how to do. I think I will even tear apart the electric motor for the small pump to see if I can get it to run better. I never do tear it down. I know that it is too much for me at this moment in time.  I fill the pot holes in the driveway. Dad complained that the holes made a bumpy ride in the ambulance coming and going to the hospital.  Now the traffic that rolls into Rolling Wheel Ranch rolls in quickly. Such are the results of a smooth driveway. Pot holes slow everyone down.

I fix the water pressure gage on the swimming pool and clean up the green algae that lurked in the pool all winter long. Sarah and her friends are swimming and having a wonderful time. I find someone who put in the deck around the above ground pool so we are turning into a real house and ranch as well.  My dad loves being wheeled out on  the deck for a few minutes to watch all the noise and activity going on here. We are glad to have him with us. I love having all the nurses’ aides, my dad and Sarah’s friends all running in and out of the house.

One day I wheel my dad to his Mercedes and help him in the car. More than anything , he wants to “go fishing.”  I drive him , complete with his portable oxygen tank to Little Butte Creek. Right under the aqueduct is a place where I can drive the car into the water. Dad sits ,with his window down and his fishing pole sticking out the window. He fishes and I sit and remember all the times he took me fishing as a child in Wyoming. He often tired of untangling my fishing line so he taught me to fish with kitchen twine and a float. He calls that “Indian Fishing”. I am quite good with the twine and float.

We don’t talk. We just enjoy. Finally he says.

“I am tired and I need to go home.” I know that he doesn’t mean my home. He means his home in Atherton, California. He and I make a pact that I will not ever sell his home in California. He gives me power of attorney. He keeps the power of a father.  I respect his wishes. I do not sell the home while he is alive. I wait until he dies. He is a good father and I am a good daughter.

I try to back the Mercedes out of the creek. We are stuck. Not a problem. The main road is only about fifteen feet from the creek .I wade the creek and I flag down a man with a truck and a wench mounted on the front bumper of the four wheel drive truck. The man laughingly pulls us out. My dad and I are quite a sight. An old man on oxygen wearing a black overcoat and a black fedora hat fishing out of the window of an old Mercedes car parked in the middle of the creek.  Somehow the man who pulls us out of the creek knows that fishing is important even when the fish are not biting. He acts like he pulls old men, daughters and Mercedes out of Little Butte Creek all the time. My dad now has a NEW adventure to talk about. He spends much time talking about his past. He is drifting towards death. I am the captain of his ship and I want to make the transition from life to his death as smooth as possible. I have a huge responsibility.

My dad tells me about the time that he and Roy Hunnel went jeep camping in Wyoming… They forgot to set the brake on the jeep in camp and the jeep rolled into the lake. The jeep is only about two feet deep in the water, but it will not start. They cannot push it out and all the cans of food get wet. The labels float off and they never knew if they are going to open a can of peaches or beans. After a couple of days, a guy comes by and pulls the jeep out of the shallows of the lake. My dad has been stuck before.

Some days I cannot take the pressure of a houseful of wonderful nurses and my dying dad. The chugging motor of his respirator clunks all night and day. The chug-chug of the machine is the life line sound of my dad breathing. His lungs work less and less. I take a blanket and a book and the tractor down by the creek. I pretend to be working on the far side of the fields.  I quietly rest my inner soul under the trees and wrap myself in the blanket to hold myself together. I have my young ten year old daughter to project life and my old 80 year old dad dying under my roof.  I gather inner and outer strength from these quiet moments. I need the strength to guide my ship across these troublesome waters.

Occasionally a captain must take a lonely watch. I journey to the funeral home to make the necessary arrangements for my father’s eventual death. I go alone because essentially, I am alone in some parts of this journey Life is always interesting and filled with quiet moments. I also make my own funeral arrangements so that Sarah will never be faced with the weighty decisions that I am making.

My dad celebrates his 80th birthday. He grows more and more disoriented. I find him a small little dog that is content to lay by his side day after day.  I keep my dad’s wallet tied to his wrist. I keep one thousand dollars in the wallet.

I go in his room and ask: “Dad, Can I have money for the groceries.”

He carefully peals off two hundred dollars. He knows to the very penny how much money is in the wallet.

“Here.” he says. “Get ice cream too.”

When he goes back to sleep, I carefully replace the money. I know that it is very important that my dad thinks he  buys our food. He is always the provider for the household and I want him to believe that he still is providing for this strange household.

Sarah and I talk about what we will have tied to our wrists when we are dying.

Sarah says. “I want my Guess Jeans.”( Remember she is only eleven years old.)

I say. “I want my horses tied to my wrist.”

Sarah says “I guess you will be living in the barn then.”

We both laugh.

My dad’s mind gets less and less oxygen. His heart is beginning to fail more and more. His mind becomes clouded.  He thinks I am stealing his money.  I tell him that in invested it for him. He wants his check so I write him a check for two million dollars on my bank account. He indorses it in a quavering hand. Dad is thrilled. He is at last a multimillionaire.

“Deposit this check!” he commands.

“Certainly” says I.

I walk out of his room with the largest check I have ever written and carefully rip it into tiny pieces. I deposit it into my trash can. I think it is the best money I ever spent.

My dad is so thrilled. He brags to everyone how rich he is….best to die owning your house and being rich. This no good-torn up check is the best last gift I give my dad before he dies.

My dad is a good man. He lives through the depression. My dad can out ‘cheap” anyone. For your Christmas gift, he would open a savings account and receive a “free” gift. I would receive the “free gift “for Christmas. He keeps the savings account. He makes me work as a child for everything. He also makes sure that he takes me fishing and comforts me when I am unhappy. My dad is a good dad with his own particular set of incongruities.

My dad is never late for anything.  When you invite him to dinner he is an hour early. My dad NEVER misses a plane or train in his life.

His breathing is becoming much labored. He dies in his sleep on July 15th. I arrange  for him to be cremated and sent to South Dakota to rest beside my mother who is buried there seven years hence. I get a call from an antique aunt by marriage that lives in South Dakota

“Carole.” She says. “Where is Gerald (my dad).

I think that she is not thinking well. “Auntie, I sent him to you several weeks ago to be buried.”

“Well, Carole.” She states matter of factily. I can tell by the tone of her voice…nothing is wrong with her thinking at all. “Gerald is NOT here.”

I call the funeral home. I discover much to my amusement that the funeral home has forgotten to send my dad. The say they will not charge me to send him to South Dakota. The funeral home is so embarrassed. I possess a very strange since of humer. I carefully explain my dad to the funeral home.

“You could not have given him a better send off. My dad was a doctor. He did not think he was going to die. He was a wonderful cheapskate and was never late for anything. He did die. He gets to go to his own funeral for free and he is LATE for his own funeral. Perfect.”

I call my Aunt and explain that my dad is on his way. Her bridge club holds a small ceremony for him

I miss my dad and I am in huge debt from his illness. Eventually I get it all straighten out and most of the medical debt is paid from his estate. I captained his ship and fulfilled my filial duty. His oxygen pump no longer chugs in the house. The house is strangely quiet.

I go down to Antelope Creek and weep under the cotton wood trees.

2 Responses to Chapter 7 – My Dad; By Carole Mercer

  1. Jan says:

    thank you, Carole for your gift to us as readers…

  2. thank you for sharing. I hope I can be as good a daughter as you.

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